Bandra’s newest restaurant Aoi (pronounced Aawee) is not just the suburb’s second Japanese restaurant to open in the last few months (after Kofuku) but is also an attempt to make Japanese food affordable. The small, all-day restaurant which can seat about 30, keeps it simple and unpretentious in decor and is experimental in its food, which Mitesh Rangras, director, SID Hospitality (the company that also owns Lemon Grass in Bandra), says is needed for its location.
The good stuff
At the corner of St Baptist Road, near the Mount Mary Steps, Aoi has part of its walls covered in dark wood and part hand-painted. Origami fabric lights hang from the ceiling and manga comic figures find space in showcases. Steel-coated bamboo chopsticks add variation to the cutlery.
The Classic Miso Soup(Rs.150) is not really “classic” as it comes with noodles and tofu with a strong flavour, but it is comforting even in Mumbai’s mild winter. The Shiitake and Button Mushroom Yakitori with leeks (Rs.300) uses thick glazed teriyaki sauce, has a crisp hit of ginger and is an improvement on the original which can be a bit boring.
The Salmon Tartare Genryo (Rs.450) is pickled meat with wasabi mayo, carrots and cucumber served on a bed of radish. Eating it with or without the radish makes a significant difference.
For those who crave the fried, the Chicken Kara Age (nuggets) with creamy wasabi dip (Rs.300) mixes American with Japanese—well marinated and slightly crisp on the outside: It will work for those who are sceptical about Japanese food. The Chicago-style Batter-Fried Maki with grilled squash, gherkins and sweet soy sauce (Rs.325)—crisp on the outside, sweet-sour in the middle—also has a chaat-like satisfaction to it.
For me, Japanese food is about the wasabi and those who share my affection for the “wasabi hit” will be disappointed as it lacks punch here. Also, it does not arrive at the table with the food and has to be asked for along with the soy sauce and pickled ginger.
The Korean kimchi, with its sweet and sour taste, is an acquired taste (Aoi Special Ramen with spicy kimchi grilled chicken/beef tenderloin, Rs.450). The experimentation might be tricky for purists (like the Blue Cheese and Asparagus Sushi, Rs.325) but go with an open mind and you might come away surprised.
A starter, sushi and main course should come to around Rs.1,000 as there is no alcohol being served for now. The Bento box, which would be a good choice for lunchtime visitors, costs Rs.450. Like most places in Bandra, there’s home delivery.
Aoi, 1 Gloria, St Baptist Road, near Mount Mary Steps, Bandra West (tel: 022-69995000/01).